A few years ago, a friend of OnlyForKoolKids told us about the time he’d been asked by Time Out London to give then hot-young-things MGMT a tour of occult sites in London (for a feature, not to turn them into wizards or warlocks). “Cool,” we exclaimed. “Are they like the psychedelic hipster bohemians they appear as on stage and in their music videos?” Of course they weren’t, our friend admonished: “Pop music’s all a load of smoke and mirrors – they were actually two pretty quite and respectful lads.”
Smoke and mirrors indeed. This obvious but oft forgotten reality was brought to mind recently whilst watching Lenny Abrahamson’s weird and wonderful Frank, a film that sees star Michael Fassbender appear for almost all of its duration wearing a comically-oversized papier-mâché head. When we first meet Frank, through the eyes of Domhnall Gleeson’s surburbia-crushed Jon, he appears part-slapstick eccentric, part-musical enigma. For Jon, and for the viewer, it’s a pretty alluring combination, from the mystic shambles of Frank’s first Ian Curtis-eque performance to his Captain Beefheart-like quest for musical perfection.
However, where the first half of the film establishes the myth of Frank, a man whose fake heads seems filled with so much genius and geniality, the latter half sets about unraveling it. Swathed in his mystique, Jon wants to be Frank; fed on the digital diet of YouTube snippets of Frank’s eccentricity, crowds at the SXSW music festival want to see Frank. But, as we discover, strip away the mask and underneath lies a man longing for acceptance, whose actual head is as vulnerable to the ravages of mental frailty as anyone else’s.
It is this revelation that lifts the film above the echelon of whimsical delight and underscores it with the kind of pathos most straight-laced dramas would kill for. The final scene, in which Fassbender appears sans Frank head, singing the whistful I Love You All to his erstwhile bandmates, is one of the most moving we’ve witnessed for some time. So by all means yourself to be taken in by the legend of Frank, whilst never forgetting that appearances can often be deceptive. Especially when they’re dominated by comically-oversized papier-mâché heads…
Frank is in cinemas on Friday May 9